Aug 2014
Lauren Florea

Shaking Things Up in Suzhou

2014-08-17 22.56.07

Let’s get on another flight
Maybe set out to sea
Kick it up and shake a fist at it — “Up We Go”, LIGHTS

It’s been a couple weeks since my last post, because I’ve made the move to China. It’s been a little surreal and quite a big adjustment, as China has been a big change from what I am used to. I knew I would go through culture shock, but even when you expect it, it can still hit you hard.

I’ve definitely had an excellent experience so far. I have explored a little bit of Suzhou, I’ve met new coworkers and friends, and I’ve eaten some local food. But things aren’t always perfect. My biggest challenge so far has definitely been the language barrier. Before I left, everyone was asking me if I had started learning Mandarin, and now I wish I had picked up several phrases before I got here. So far really all I can say in Mandarin is hello, thank you and sorry. Which is enough to awkwardly get around when combined with hand motions, but makes life still fairly difficult. There have been frustrating moments when I haven’t been able to communicate what I wanted. And an inability to read store, bus and subway signs around town has stopped me from going out and experiencing more that Suzhou has to offer.

Another new thing for me has been how much I stand out when walking down the street. I wish I could say I’ve gotten used to being stared at, but really I don’t know if I will ever get used to it. Sometimes it can be fun to smile back and say hi, but there are days when I’m exhausted after work and all I want to do is not be noticed.

Despite these and other challenges I face, I am figuring Suzhou out and already think I am slowly getting over the culture shock. I am settling in, and I think I am really going to end up loving living and working here.

Culture shock is inevitable, but it’s something I think is important to experience. It’s a reminder, a wake up call that there are so many people and languages and customs in our world. You can read about another country or another lifestyle online or in a textbook, but you can’t possibly understand it until you actually experience it yourself. Sometimes you have to shake things up, get out of your comfort zone, and try something new. Because culture shock can be difficult, but man do I feel alive.